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screen blanks system freezes

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while using mouse in Word, PowerPoint and other programs, screen suddenly blanks (usually in vertical bars) and system freezes (there is no drive activity). turn off/on or reset button and system springs to life, goes thru C drive check and boots up. may work well for hours or blank immediately after restarting program. have not had any trouble so far when on the Internet, and the desktop holds firm.

about a month ago while defraging, system suddenly rebooted. got thru welcome and "music", but desktop would not come up. we were able to get it working again, reloaded all the programs, and things seemed to be okay - although shortly after, while working in Word, problem began to occur - then PowerPoint, Paint Shop Pro, and once or twice on several others.

have updated the mouse drivers, removed and reset the graphics card and determined that its drivers are latest.

don't know if this is hardware problem or what, but since we are using XP OS, thought i should start here.

anyone encountered this problem before and does anyone have a solution? is something failing and need to be replaced?

thanx for any help!
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unless someone has a brighter idea I would suggest backing up the data since the time of the problem and then restoring the computer back to a point prior to the problem if you have one that is, the other idea would be to uninstall and then reinstall officeworks on your computer, hope someone has a better idea though, thanks.
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